Beyond Web 2.0: What Lies There?

What does the future hold for the Internet? Will it really replace television, as some argue?

The Internet arouses wonder like few new technologies before it. Our children and grandchildren are growing up in an online world, where information, albeit some of dubious provenance, lies but a mouse-click away. Within a few short years, the technology has exploded, though there have been a few glitches en route. Take the proliferation of "malware" - malicious software - for example. Internet start-ups inspired imaginations and drummed up vast enthusiasm earlier in the millennium, leading to an upward value spiral that proved to be all too virtual. After stocks crashed to terra firma in 2002, many were quick to declare it a dud, or a fad. They spoke too soon.

On Sunday, TheMarker hosted its fourth annual Com.vention conference, themed "New Generation Internet: Beyond Web 2.0."

What does the future hold for the Internet? Will it really replace television, as some argue? "Prime-time [television] will disappear," predicted Ilan Shiloach, CEO of McCann Ericsson, Israel, on the panel entitled: "The Future of Media Consumption - Will 50 Mega Change the World?" Well aware of the rapid changes in their field, including a loss of advertising revenue to the Internet, TV broadcast companies are moving fast to regroup, by offering new services such as Yes Max, allowing viewers to order and watch shows at their own convenience.

By the way, "Web 2.0" simply means advanced, or "second-generation," Internet. The main thrust is a shift away from static Web sites, where nothing moves, to interactive, dynamic and shareable content. Originally, Web sites were inert: You could access a site and read it, and that was that.

With technological advances came sites you could affect, the most popular of which are blogs and social networks - which allow you to build your own Web site, showing whatever content you choose. On sites like Facebook, the community at large can respond to your content (or be blocked from it if you so choose).

In the past, watching online videos required an improved connection speed. At slow speeds, the clip would stagger forward, stopping occasionally to download more information. The greater your connection speed, the smoother the video experience. Today, most videos can load and play simultaneously, thanks to advanced communications and video-streaming technology, assuming, of course, that your computer has sufficient memory to accept the incoming data.

Cellular companies are also jumping on the bandwagon, investing huge sums to improve surfing technology for those who want to go online via their phones, be it to check their email, access news-feeds or watch a sports game live. But they, and regular phone companies, also have to contend with a threat: Free, or at least low-cost, Internet telephony. The faster and more convenient surfing becomes, and the better the quality of voice transmission, the greater this threat becomes.

Beyond Web 2.0, Com.vention brought together media leaders from Israel and abroad on a panel hosted by serial entrepreneur Yossi Vardi, the father of Internet messaging. The Web 2.0 panel featured Greg Cohn, director of Market Strategy & Business Development at Yahoo!, who feels that financial crisis or not, this is a terrific time to be an entrepreneur. Anil Hansjee, head of Corporate Development at Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa - another member of the Web 2.0 panel - predicts that this crisis will birth Internet gorillas, just as the 2002 crash constituted the making of Google. A crisis causes a company to sharpen its focus and create true value for customers, Hansjee explained. Alan Hurff, the engineering director at MySpace, underscored the rise of layman news: people find out about breaking events faster than CNN, he observed, and nowadays everyone's a blogger.

The financial crisis hasn't managed to squelch the optimism of the Internet gurus who participated in the Web 2.0 panel. Although panelist Greg Cohn from Yahoo! acknowledged a drop in Internet advertising, he said companies are spending more on social networking sites. This is Cohn's first visit to Israel, and he gushed that in his two days in the country, he has been astounded by the level of entrepreneurship here.

Jane Thompson, who heads the international operations of IAC Internet company, said that some IAC divisions are thriving, despite the economic downturn. This includes the online dating Web site, which has hit an all-time high in the number of registered users. Thompson believes this constitutes evidence of the opportunity that still exists for Web sites that serve the consumer's personal needs.

Her company is witnessing a decline in advertising revenue, she said, but remains in the acquisition mode. Thompson said IAC has money to invest and is looking to expand its corporate activity in the fields of Web content, software and search technology. She sees Israel as a promising market.

Google's Anil Hansjee admitted that it is difficult to know what the future holds, so he prefers to look at the here-and-now and current business opportunities. Hansjee thinks crises force companies to provide real value to their customers.

MySpace's Alan Hurff thinks one of the most prominent trends on the Web is the growth in journalism generated by individual citizens. As such, one of the fasting growing features on the short-message Web site Twitter is a news channel. Hurff says users can dispense with regular news sources and get whatever they need from the Twitter site.